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Account of Joseph Paisley: ‘The Celebrated Gretna Green Parson’

Gretna Green

Account of Joseph Paisley: ‘The Celebrated Gretna Green Parson’

You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed.

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel.

I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off.

You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham.
What a good joke it will be!
Pride and Prejudice

This account of the life of Joseph Paisley (with an etched Likeness), styled as ‘The Celebrated Gretna Green Parson’, appeared in the Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement, May, 1811, as a letter to the editor.

To the Editor of the Lady’s Magazine


I inclose you an Account (from the Carlisle Journal) of the Gretna-Green Parson, who died a few days ago, as also an etching, which is an excellent likeness, and was taken some years ago, by a neighbouring country lad, without the knowledge of the Parson; he not being willing to sit for such a purpose. If you think them worth publishing, they are at your service. In addition to the printed account, I can assure you that, about eighteen months ago, in the presence of a friend of mine, who called upon him, (although in the afternoon, and having previously drank a great deal, as usual) he swallowed seventeen glasses of raw brandy.
I am, &c.

Kirkandrews, near Carlisle,
January 26th, 1811

In a subsequent letter, Mr. Norman informs us that the young man who took the likeness (Robert Nixon, now some time dead) never published it, but only struck off a few impressions for his own amusement, and that of his friends.—He adds, that the report (noticed in our January Magazine) of the Parson’s having been a blacksmith, is erroneous.)

Joseph Paisley, of coupling celebrity, was born on the borders of England, in the year 1728, or 1729, at the obscure hamlet of Lenoxtown, about a mile distant from Gretna Green; at which place, and at Springfield (its immediate neighbour) the subject of this memoir had, for half a century, continued to weld together the chains of matrimony, and to render happy or miserable great multitudes of anxious lovers,—Early in life, Paisley was bound apprentice to a tobacconist; but, becoming disgusted with this employment, he changed it for that of a fisherman, and was allowed by his brethren to bear the palm on all occasions where strength and agility were required. It was in this humble capacity that he was initiated into the secrets of a profession, which he managed with such address. He had formed a connexion with one Walter Cowtard, who lived very near to Sarkfoot, upon the sea-shore; and who, strange thought it may appear, was both a smuggler and a priest! Old Watty had the misfortune to be but indifferently lodged, having “a reeky house,” and, what is perhaps worse, a scolding wife, so that he was necessitated to perform the marriage ceremony on the open beach, among the furze, or, as it is provincially called, whins. On these occasions, young Paisley officiated as clerk. But our hero had ambition, and he only wanted an opportunity for its exertion. An occasion soon offered itself;—one time Watty went to the Isle of Mann, for the purpose of fetching over a cargo of contraband brandy; whilst his assistant remained at home to perform the necessary rites during the absence of the former. Finding that he could rivet the matrimonial bond equally as well as his master, and being at the same time under some pecuniary embarrassment, he began business on his own account, and, by his ability and address, soon overcame all competition.

About the year 1794, he was served with a subpoena to give evidence at Bristol respecting the validity of a marriage. It was expected by thousands that the event of the trial would put an end to Joe’s matrimonial career; the contrary, however, took place; for, by his dexterous management, he not only succeeded in rendering the match valid, but was enabled to follow his favorite profession with increased security. During this journey, he visited the metropolis, where he was much noticed by the nobility and gentry. Had he been of a covetous disposition, he might speedily have accumulated a considerable fortune; but, since the time to which we allude, he has never been distant a single mile from Springfield.

Of Joseph’s personal strength I have heard many well-authenticated accounts, which I well believe from feats which I myself have seen him perform. His strength of arm was prodigious:—he could have taken a large oaken stick by the end, and continued to shake it to and fro, until it went to pieces in the air!!! The excellence of his constitution was likewise often tried; though it must be allowed that his intemperance was proverbial, yet he reached his 82d year. He was accustomed to relate with great pleasure a celebrated achievement, in which he and a jovial companion, a horse-breaker, were once engaged; when they consumed the amazing quantity of ten gallons of pure brandy in the short space of sixty hours; and, what is more, these two thirsty souls kicked the empty cask in pieces with their feet, for having run dry too soon. It may be conjectured that the conversation of such a character could not be very engaging; juvenile feats of activity, and his beloved brandy, formed the chief topics of his discourse, which, until very lately, never turned upon religious subjects.
But let justice be done to the character of the man. It must be allowed, indeed, that he was too fond of a stoup of liquor, and was of coarse and unpolished manners; but he certainly was not addicted to profane talking, and obscene discourse, as a neighbouring journalist has roundly asserted. Without hazard of contradiction, it may be averred, that he was a very honest and charitable man, and inoffensive neighbour, and that he was generally respected by all who knew him.

Paisley is succeeded in the capacity of coupler by a young man, a friend of his; and there is no fear that the business will fall off, as three weddings have already taken place since the interment of the old man.

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A Description of the Funeral for Princess Amelia

Princess Amelia was born on 7 August 1783, at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, the youngest daughter of
George III and Queen Charlotte, and the youngest of their fifteen children. She is reputed to have
been her father’s favourite, and he called her “Emily.” As the daughter of the monarch, she was
styled HRH The Princess Amelia from birth.

She became ill in 1795, and was known to suffer from consumption, from which she eventually died, and
erysipelas, a painful type of skin infection. Her eldest brother, later George IV, was her godfather
and is reputed to have requested her death mask.

Amelia and her sisters, Charlotte, Augusta Sophia, Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia were over-protected and
isolated, which restricted their meeting eligible suitors of their own age.

Amelia fell in love with Hon. Sir Charles FitzRoy, an equerry 21 years older than herself, and the
son of Charles FitzRoy, 1st Baron Southampton, but was forbidden to marry him by her mother Queen
Charlotte. There is conflicting evidence as to whether or not the two did marry, but they did have
one son, Hugh Huntly (d. 1829)

Her death on November 2, 1810, led to a decline in her father’s health which resulted in his insanity
and the subsequent invocation of the Regency Act of 1811. She was buried in the royal vault in St
George’s Chapel, Windsor.

While most funerals during the Regency were quiet affairs with only the male members of the family
attending, a Royal Funeral called for special treatment.

A Description of the Funeral for Princess Amelia

The Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex,
Appropriated solely to their
Use and Amusement

November 1810

During the service, which was read by the Honorable and Rev. the Dean of Windsor, his Royal Highness
the Prince of Wales, and his Royal brothers, as well as the Knights of the Garter present, occupied
their respective stalls. The Nobility, Privy Councillors, and officers of the household, as well as
others who had followed the body, were plasced in the vacant and intermediate stalls. The Ladies’
attendants were in the seat below the stalls on the north side nearest the Altar; the Grooms of the
bed-chamber, Physicians, Rector and Curate of Windsor, Surgeon, Apothecary, and Solicitor of her late
Royal Highness, in the seat below the stalls on the south side, nearest the Altar; the equerries, and
the Queen’s and Princesses’ other attendants, in the front seats on either side; the pages were
arranged below the Altar.

The part of the service before the interment, and the anthem, being performed, the procession moved
out of the choir in the order in which it had entered, and proceeed up the north aisle of the choir,
flanked by the Royal Horse Guards, blue, to the place of burial behind the Altar.

The body being deposited in the vault, and the service concluded, Sir Isaac Heard Garter, after a
short pause, pronounced, near the grave, the style of her late Royal Highness, as follows:–

Thus it hath pleased Almighty God, to take out of this transitory life unto his Divine Mercy the late
most Illustrious Princess Amelia, 6th and youngest daughter fo Most Excellent Majesty George the
Third, by the Grace of god, of the United Kingdom of Great-Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the
Faith; whom God bless and preserve with long Life, Health, and Honor, and all worldly happiness.

After which, the Royal Princes, the nobility, and others, who had composed the procession, returned,
having witnessed that every part of this mournful and afflicting ceremony had been conducted with
great regularity, decorum, and solemnity.

Figure 1. FULL DRESS.–Black velvet, ornamented with jet and bugles, trimmed round the bosom with
Vandyke lace; the sleeves confined on the shoulders by jet broaches, the under sleeve of white satin,
with bugles; the waistband and head-dress the same: white kid gloves and shoes: fan of black crape.

Figure 2. Morning Dress–Of raven-grey silk, made tight at the throat, with white crape ruff: bonnet,
black silk and crape: black silk mantle; shoes and gloves same color as the dress: broach and ear-
rings of jet.

Historical information from Wikipedia, the online

Historical prints and descriptions from Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page.

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